Japanese Art from the Floating World

Suit of Armor
Suit of Armor (Go-Mai Tatehagi Do), 1700s
Unidentified Craftsman
Asian Art
Gift of David T. Owsley
Popular culture takes center stage as the Japanese Art from the Floating World exhibition continues at the David Owsley Museum of Art Ball State University. The Japanese art of Ukiyo-e, or floating world pictures, developed in the city of Edo, now Tokyo. The Floating World refers to the escapist lifestyle embraced by the rich merchant class during the Edo Period. It is an art form closely associated with the pleasure of the theater, teahouse, and geisha, and representative of a society fascinated with celebrity.

The practical meets the popular in small personal items such as inro and netsuke. As Japanese garments had no pockets, one solution was to hang small, handcrafted boxes (inro) by cords from a sash worn around the waist. The cord was counterbalanced on the sash by a carved, button-like toggle (netsuke).

The influence of popular culture is apparent in the netsuke cast of characters. “You can look at these little sculptures and see what was important to people at the time,” Director Peter Blume said. “The zodiac, mythical creatures, and kabuki
actors—the rock stars of the day— are often featured. Each one had meaning in the popular culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”

Other featured works of art in the exhibition include a ceremonial samurai suit of armor, iron stirrups inlaid with silver in a pattern of peonies, and items from the traditional tea ceremony. Woodblock prints from the museum’s collection depict a range of subject matter, from traditional landscapes of Mount Fuji to modern sea battles during the Russo Japanese War.

“We can see a dramatic transition from an isolated national culture to a modern one in this exhibition,” Blume said.

Exhibition Date: December 14, 2007 - March 16, 2007